Sandra Griffiths Stereo-Hype In this guest blog, Sandra Griffiths explains how an arts and music festival is seeking to break down the stigma of mental health among African and Caribbean people.

March 14 and 15 will see an array of arts and music events take place in Birmingham, all with the aim of raising awareness of, and positively celebrating, better health and wellbeing for African and Caribbean people in the West Midlands.

The Stereo-Hype Festival, hosted in partnership with anti-stigma campaign Time to Change and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, the festival builds on last year’s event at Stratford Circus, East London, which attracted 700 people from all walks of life and experiences. 

Research has shown that arts programmes and events that involve communities, including people with experience of mental ill health, artists, mental health professionals and those who have had no contact with mental health services, can act as powerful agents to enhance wellbeing and break down stigma.

Based on the reaction to the Stereo-Hype Festival model, first established in 2003 by Mellow, an African Caribbean London-based network, this finding matches our experience.

Stereo-Hype creates a space to discuss and explore stigma, discrimination and wellbeing issues within African and Caribbean communities through performance and the arts.

Using a co-programming model, the festival brings together community, public and arts partners to tackle public awareness of, and attitudes to, mental wellbeing using performances, film screenings, fashion, dance and music events, as well as interactive workshops,  all available to the public free of charge.

As part of our programming we promote the assets and strengths of African and Caribbean communities and explore how they can be harnessed to improve their wellbeing.

This year, Stereo-Hype is taking place at mac birmingham, in the heart of the city’s cultural centre and will showcase some of the city’s – and country's – leading African and Caribbean performers. These include BBC 1 Xtra's favourite jazz/soul artist Call Me Unique; comedian and former Teletubby (Dipsy) John Simmit; baritone opera singer Byron Jackson; up-and-coming grime artist Nendz; The Notebenders, a jazz band established by legendary jazz saxophonist Andy Hamilton MBE; the LEGEND: Bob Marley Tribute Band; BBC Radio WM's Nikki Tapper and many more.

The activities have been developed to attract people of all ages and backgrounds, especially men. The Black Men on the Couch strand, led by counselor Rotimi Akinsete and supported by UK Council for Psychotherapy, will interview two black male public figures about their sporting careers and how they managed their health and wellbeing during their heyday. This year, former Jamaican international and Birmingham City footballer Michael Johnson and Chelsea FC’s first black player Paul Canoville will be taking part.

In addition, there is a programme of day and evening activities for families, young people and adults. This will include: choirs, such as the Choir with No Name; fashion shows; the Battle of the Barbers and Speedy Hair Stylists competitions supplied by BEX Live; face painting; local street dance crews, such as the 3 Phase Crew; stand up comedy; a Question Time debate and cutting edge DJs supplied by Touch Agency.

That the artists are from African and Caribbean backgrounds and want to support their communities helps to inspire and motivate people to be more open about their wellbeing. Also having the festival in Birmingham with local artists reflects the fact that the West Midlands has the second largest African and Caribbean population in the UK behind London.

Elsewhere, people will be able to come and experience the best of Birmingham’s African and Caribbean’s business community with a trade show hosted by Black Exposure Live or receive a mental workout with series of interactive workshops such as 49 Ways to Write Yourself Well with celebrated writing therapist, Jackee Holder. 

There will also be a drama performance, Unsent Letters, produced and directed by Hearth Productions, followed by a discussion about the stigma experienced by African and Caribbean people.

Between performances, people will have the chance to chat about wellbeing with 100 festival volunteers recruited by Time to Change, many of whom have a lived experience of mental health problems.

Just by chatting and getting to know each other within a creative arts environment, we can challenge prejudice, stigma and discrimination together. We hope you can join us and be part of a community conversation aiming to make a difference. 

About the author

Sandra Griffiths is the founder of the Stereo-Hype Festival and director of Red Earth Consultancy.


Time to Change is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and is funded by the Department of Health, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund.

To book tickets to the Stereo-Hype festival go to:

For more information on the festival visit:

Twitter: @stereohype2014